Hi-tech screening plan for airports

BRITAIN'S top airports are to get a pounds 150m baggage-screening system to avert a Lockerbie- type disaster, it was announced yesterday.

The 1988 tragedy killed 270 people when PanAm's Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb, despite security checks.

The British Airports Authority said that a new set-up capable of automatically detecting explosive materials in luggage going into aircraft holds was being installed at Heathrow and Gatwick. It will initially be used on baggage being transferred from one international flight to another.

By 1996, the system will be installed to screen hold luggage at all the BAA's seven UK airports. It is capable of screening up to 20 bags a minute, combining three techniques for identifying explosives - automatic computer analysis, colour imaging of suspect material and explosive trace detection. The BAA is promising 'no significant differences' or additional delays in check-in routines.

All bags will first go through a computerised X-ray machine that analyses the weight and density of the materials they contain. Any bags with items that appear to be explosives are pinpointed and identified to the operator. Contents of suspect luggage are then displayed on a screen and the material is highlighted by colour coding.

Bags that fail this test are subjected to a 'sniffer' check in which distinctive vapours given off by some types of explosive can be detected. If a bag fails all three checks, it is searched by hand in the presence of its owner.